Above: Labrador City & Wabush mining towns in Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada
The mining industry has a very unique role to play in lowering carbon emissions and combating climate change. Did you know that many of the raw materials required for clean, green technology must be mined? Canada, for example, is home to 14 of the 19 metals and minerals needed to make a solar PV panel.
While the mining industry still has a long way to go in becoming a net-zero carbon emitter worldwide, Canada is making impressive strides. They're leading the way in innovative and creative solutions to reduce their environmental impact while still producing vital materials needed to continue the fight against climate change.
How is Canada contributing to a greener mining future, both locally and globally? And how can Canada’s mining industry meet the demand for minerals and metals while meeting both economic and environmental targets?
Going greener in Canada: A timeline
In Canada, the mining industry recognizes the huge potential of being part of the climate change solution. The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) has been working to combat greenhouse emissions for 20 years – in 2004, they launched their Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative, an award-winning international performance system requiring all member facilities to report their energy use and set targets. In 2009 they adopted the International Council on Mining and Metals’ Climate Change Policy. They took it a step further in 2016, when they announced plans to put an official price on carbon to reduce emissions in mining.
Going full circle: Canadian mining resources contributing to a greener world
Canada’s mining industry plays a big role in providing the raw materials needed for climate innovation. The technology created from these mined materials contributes to both a lower environmental footprint / greater efficiency in mining and to the larger goal of transitioning to a low carbon future globally. This synergy makes mining a unique and essential industry to create the equipment needed to combat climate change. Further, because so many Canadian mines have adopted low emission technologies (made possible by mined materials), they’ve been able to operate some of the lowest carbon-intensive mines in the world – creating a positive snowball effect and enabling them to keep mining for these much-needed materials in a more sustainable way.
What else is Canada doing to combat CO2 emissions and promote more sustainable mining practices?
Three big ways Canada is fighting for greener mining
1. The Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative: Leading global environmental standards
As mentioned above, TSM’s goal is to help the Canadian mining industry evaluate and manage their environmental responsibilities. It’s the only mining program in the world requiring public reporting of mining sites’ performance against a set of environmental indicators. The program stands out globally for its accountability and transparency – the initiative is mandatory for all MAC members, complete with regular facility assessments, a commitment to TSM’s principles, and an agreement to report performance against TSM’s 30 indicators each year. This information is published in MAC’s annual report, available to the public.
Canada takes pride in being the first to develop such a robust, externally-verified system that stands as a role model for the rest of the world. The program’s been so successful that it’s gone global and can now be found in countries like Finland, Argentina, Botswana, the Philippines, Brazil, Norway and Spain.
2. Project to capture and store carbon at Canadian mine sites
Preventing carbon leakage is critical to keeping mining efforts sustainable. That’s why the University of British Columbia has launched an innovative carbon capture project aimed at drastically reducing mining’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage in Mine Tailings (CCUS) project will utilize new technologies to mineralize CO2 captured from air and flue gas at mine sites, effectively transforming CO2 into a stable and benign substance. It will also experiment with CO2 delivery and tailings management techniques, marking the first on-site CCUS testing of hard-rock mine tailings in the world.
The goal? To learn more about carbon mineralization in mine tailings, and to give Canada a competitive edge in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through high capture efficiency. The ultimate goal is to create mine operations with zero or net-negative emissions.
3. Canada Nickel working to produce zero-carbon nickel, cobalt and iron products
Canada Nickel’s new subsidiary NetZero Metals will begin researching and developing a facility using technology to create zero-carbon nickel, cobalt and iron products.
"The electric vehicle industry and many other consumer sectors needs zero-carbon metal this decade – not in a nebulous 2050 timeframe contemplated by many other resource companies," said the Chair & CEO of Canada Nickel in a press release.
This will happen through utilizing both hydroelectricity and serpentine rock (no, it’s not a snake rock), a resource that naturally absorbs CO2 upon air exposure.
“With nickel as a preferred metal to power the clean energy revolution, our commitment to net zero-carbon production is the right step to take for the environment, for consumers, and for our investors,” added the CEO in the release.
With these examples, Canada is setting a global standard of how to best balance more sustainable mining processes with the need to extract materials for creating the equipment for more sustainable practices. It's truly a circular process that, if continued, will help make massive strides towards a greener and more sustainable planet.